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Wanted: Quality Reads

Recently, the Mr and I have been discussing both food and science fiction* at length. I’d love your help on book recommendations, if you’d be so kind. Here’s some background about each topic:

I grew up surrounded by bookshelves filled two rows deep with well-loved, cracked-spine sci-fi books that seemed to go back to the beginning of time (really, they went back to my father’s childhood). Now, despite having grown up in close proximity to a living encyclopedia of the genre, I haven’t actually read much science fiction, relatively speaking. And even so, I read much more of it in my teens than I read now. I only recently realized why, while I slogged through Stranger in a Strange Land this past winter. Whoa, ye falling-down sci-fi fans whose very existence I’ve just dealt a mighty blow. It’s not out of character for me to dismiss the books that top other people’s lists. The thing is, I can’t separate a story from the writing. I’ll read a shallow tale if it’s told artfully; I’ll put down a great tale if it’s told poorly. And by “poorly” I mean, “not up to my very picky standards.” It’s not an objective judgment, by any means.

Lots of sci-fi, even among the most noted stories and novels and despite amazingly imaginative and insightful storylines, simply isn’t well written. The writing is the sort that gets the job done, but for me it’s a deal breaker. I like to consume writing that is artful in its own right; that shows prowess on the part of the writer. So I’d really love your help. I want to bone up on some sci-fi, and I want it to be well-written stuff. I’d appreciate your recommendations, especially if you tell me why you think the books are great. I’ll compile the list here, assuming a list develops. As background, here are some sci-fi books I really liked:

  • Dune, that classic, is one of the few books I’ve read more than once.
  • Due to my own fickle ways I’ve never finished reading the Foundation trilogy, but I have started it a few times and have enjoyed it every single time (tally: I’ve read Foundation three times, Foundation and Empire one and a half times, and Second Foundation not once)
  • Fahrenheit 451 – loved it.
  • 1984 – among my favourite books.

But wait, there’s more. I’m also on a kick of reading about food. Food production, food consumption, food preparation. I’m halfway through Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I’m hungry to read more. Not cookbooks, per se, but books about foods. Local foods, agriculture, farming, vegetable gardening, general approaches to food preparation, etc. Again, with a focus on the well-written. Again, I’ll compile the resulting list here.

What do you think? Let the bookfest begin!

* Yes, the sci-fi discussions stem from us having started to watch Firefly. I wasn’t kidding about being a fan.

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penny

I’ll try to read anything .. Off the top of my head, perhaps you might like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy? (it’s environmental to a degree but I don’t recall items about food) Maybe some Ursula Le Guin? I’ll have to ponder this some more.. Because I’ll read anything and then get sucked into a series just because it exists, makes it hard for me to give recommendations I feel are solid.

I keep meaning to finish Foundation..

whatthehay

Anything Kingsolver is wonderful. If you’re into food and food production, her book Prodigal Summer is really good too. Poisonwood Bible was incredibly difficult for me to read – only because I hated the main character so much. Otherwise, it was a GREAT book.

Katya

If you like ‘food/cookery-books’ with different approaches to cooking you should try Heston Blumenthal. He’s got a bunch of books, he’s normally taking very basic dishes, best ingredients and is looking how too make them perfect, I mean really perfect. Lot’s of chemical explanations on how to get the right taste etc.

Marikka

I’d recommend SF that no one wants to think of as SF: The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (this one inspires a tremedous sense of love whenever I think about it, but I think Ishiguro is sublime).

And on the more traditional front:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (although the subsequent Ender books are a bit preachy, but my dad loves the subsequent Bean books)

Anything by Octavia Butler because she was super cool.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm…Kate Wilhelm remains super cool.

And my favorite dystopian novel ever: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. (I liked 1984 well enough, but I fell head over heels in love with Brave New World, a love that has survived fourteen years now.)

I’ve been slogging through a lot of mediocre SF lately, which has depressed me, but since everyone else loves it, I’m wondering if maybe I just don’t connect with SF anymore.

And although I am reluctant to mention that Harlan Ellison got me back into SF in college, I will say that he did, even though his recent behavior makes me want to hang my head in shame after admitting as much. But his Alone Against Tomorrow story collection makes me want to forget his recent indiscretions.

Then, if you are willing to jump ship and venture towards the reason why some folks refer to science fiction and fantasy as speculative fiction, the short story collections by Kelly Link.

cecily

Rob recently re-read the entire Foundation series (including additions written by other authors) in chronological order for the story arc (not publication). I simply don’t read enough to re-read all that! I do adore Asimov though! Nightfall (a co-write piece from the end of Asimov’s life)is a quick and fun read. It’s one of those reads that plays out like a movie in my head as I read. I’ll note that music by Air is an excellent soundtrack to that one.

Then, there’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age. They both rock, though both are guilty of a gratuitous sex scene or two. Snow crash is a bit less mature a work than Diamond Age. if choosing between the two I say Diamond Age.

Have I pushed that book on you before?

penny

oh most definitely ender’s game! I’m due for a reread. now i’ll have to organize my sci-fi collection so i know what i own and what i don’t.. foundation is on my list for another attempt this summer.

Francesca

Try Iain M Banks. Note the M…. the books he writes as Iain Banks are totally different. He and Dan Simmons are the only two scifi writers I am crazy about. Incredible stuff. Dan Simmons uses Keats´poetry as a base for his books. Good stuff.

Marikka

I love Diamond Age, although, I will admit that it takes a bit more patience than the average SF and a lot of trust. It’s the trust issue that seems to stop a lot of people, because you have to trust that the author is going to explain that you don’t get in that initial chapter. And if you haven’t been initiated in that sort of trust, it’s hard to give in.

Apparently, I’ll have to try out Dan Simmons if he uses poetry as a basis for a book.

Melissa

Ok, I was totally going to recommend the Foundation Series. However, Asimov was an extremely prolific writer and many, many, many of his works are worth a read. I second (third?) Nightfall, and recommend Nemesis; also see if you can get your hands on two short stories he wrote called ‘The Last Question’ and (I think) ‘A Feeling of Power.’ I really recommend Card’s Ender’s Game. It’s one of my all-time favorite books of any kind, and I’m picky about the author’s technical writing ability, as well. Let’s see…I enjoy the work of Larry Niven – Ringworld and The Integral Trees. I also read a lot of Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey, although those begin to blur into fantasy (not a problem for me, as I actually prefer that genre). It sounds like your Dad and mine would get along.

penny

still haven’t organized my book shelf but may i second the recommendation of ‘nemesis’ and add to it ‘Time and Again’ by Jack Finney.

and I whole heartedly endorse ‘ender’s game’

lulu

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. A must-read for anyone who cares about where their food comes from and what’s in it. Fascinating, eye-opening, intelligent, funny, and well-written. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

whatthehay

Anything Kingsolver is wonderful. If you’re into food and food production, her book Prodigal Summer is really good too. Poisonwood Bible was incredibly difficult for me to read – only because I hated the main character so much. Otherwise, it was a GREAT book.

penny

I’ll try to read anything .. Off the top of my head, perhaps you might like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy? (it’s environmental to a degree but I don’t recall items about food) Maybe some Ursula Le Guin? I’ll have to ponder this some more.. Because I’ll read anything and then get sucked into a series just because it exists, makes it hard for me to give recommendations I feel are solid.

I keep meaning to finish Foundation..

Katya

If you like ‘food/cookery-books’ with different approaches to cooking you should try Heston Blumenthal. He’s got a bunch of books, he’s normally taking very basic dishes, best ingredients and is looking how too make them perfect, I mean really perfect. Lot’s of chemical explanations on how to get the right taste etc.

Marikka

I’d recommend SF that no one wants to think of as SF: The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (this one inspires a tremedous sense of love whenever I think about it, but I think Ishiguro is sublime).

And on the more traditional front:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (although the subsequent Ender books are a bit preachy, but my dad loves the subsequent Bean books)

Anything by Octavia Butler because she was super cool.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm…Kate Wilhelm remains super cool.

And my favorite dystopian novel ever: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. (I liked 1984 well enough, but I fell head over heels in love with Brave New World, a love that has survived fourteen years now.)

I’ve been slogging through a lot of mediocre SF lately, which has depressed me, but since everyone else loves it, I’m wondering if maybe I just don’t connect with SF anymore.

And although I am reluctant to mention that Harlan Ellison got me back into SF in college, I will say that he did, even though his recent behavior makes me want to hang my head in shame after admitting as much. But his Alone Against Tomorrow story collection makes me want to forget his recent indiscretions.

Then, if you are willing to jump ship and venture towards the reason why some folks refer to science fiction and fantasy as speculative fiction, the short story collections by Kelly Link.

cecily

Rob recently re-read the entire Foundation series (including additions written by other authors) in chronological order for the story arc (not publication). I simply don’t read enough to re-read all that! I do adore Asimov though! Nightfall (a co-write piece from the end of Asimov’s life)is a quick and fun read. It’s one of those reads that plays out like a movie in my head as I read. I’ll note that music by Air is an excellent soundtrack to that one.

Then, there’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age. They both rock, though both are guilty of a gratuitous sex scene or two. Snow crash is a bit less mature a work than Diamond Age. if choosing between the two I say Diamond Age.

Have I pushed that book on you before?

penny

oh most definitely ender’s game! I’m due for a reread. now i’ll have to organize my sci-fi collection so i know what i own and what i don’t.. foundation is on my list for another attempt this summer.

Francesca

Try Iain M Banks. Note the M…. the books he writes as Iain Banks are totally different. He and Dan Simmons are the only two scifi writers I am crazy about. Incredible stuff. Dan Simmons uses Keats´poetry as a base for his books. Good stuff.

Marikka

I love Diamond Age, although, I will admit that it takes a bit more patience than the average SF and a lot of trust. It’s the trust issue that seems to stop a lot of people, because you have to trust that the author is going to explain that you don’t get in that initial chapter. And if you haven’t been initiated in that sort of trust, it’s hard to give in.

Apparently, I’ll have to try out Dan Simmons if he uses poetry as a basis for a book.

lulu

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. A must-read for anyone who cares about where their food comes from and what’s in it. Fascinating, eye-opening, intelligent, funny, and well-written. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

Melissa

Ok, I was totally going to recommend the Foundation Series. However, Asimov was an extremely prolific writer and many, many, many of his works are worth a read. I second (third?) Nightfall, and recommend Nemesis; also see if you can get your hands on two short stories he wrote called ‘The Last Question’ and (I think) ‘A Feeling of Power.’ I really recommend Card’s Ender’s Game. It’s one of my all-time favorite books of any kind, and I’m picky about the author’s technical writing ability, as well. Let’s see…I enjoy the work of Larry Niven – Ringworld and The Integral Trees. I also read a lot of Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey, although those begin to blur into fantasy (not a problem for me, as I actually prefer that genre). It sounds like your Dad and mine would get along.

penny

still haven’t organized my book shelf but may i second the recommendation of ‘nemesis’ and add to it ‘Time and Again’ by Jack Finney.

and I whole heartedly endorse ‘ender’s game’

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